Active languages

An interpreter’s active languages are the language or languages into which s/he translates. The active languages in a meeting are the languages into which interpretation is provided.


The International Association of Conference Interpreters. Founded in 1953, it is the only worldwide organization of conference interpreters and has some 2,500 active members.


The Bundesverband der Übersetzer und Dolmetscher is the German Federal Association of Interpreters and Translators.


This French term refers to portable equipment used for simultaneous interpreting without a booth. The interpreter is in the meeting room with the delegates and uses only a microphone and sometimes headphones. The advantage of this system is that it is portable (making it possible to accompany those listening whilst visiting a factory, for example). The disadvantage is that it does not permit sound isolation. As for simultaneous interpreting in booths, at least two interpreters per language are required. The system should only be used for small meetings, meeting rooms with good acoustics and/or for short meetings where consecutive interpreting would not be appropriate.


Booths are small soundproof rooms in meeting rooms from which interpreters broadcast simultaneous interpretation. Since they remain in the booth for many hours each day and have to perform at their best, the booths must meet certain size, air quality and accessibility standards. With contributions from AIIC, the ISO (International Standardization Organization) has established standards related to interpretation. ISO 2603 sets standards for fixed booths www.aiic.net/ViewPage.cfm/page590.htm and ISO 4043 sets standards for mobile booths. http://www.aiic.net/ViewPage.cfm/page590.htm CEI 60914 sets standards for electrical and audio systems. The term “booth” also refers to a group of interpreters who work into a given language (e.g. “the French booth”).


See Whispering

Code of Professional Ethics

The Code of Professional Ethics is one of AIIC’s basic texts. It sets out the three fundamental principles of professional secrecy or confidentiality, professionalism and collegiality.


Confidentiality is one of the fundamental principles followed by professional interpreters. Members of the BDÜ and AIIC are bound by professional secrecy and respect the rule of absolute confidentiality in order to protect any information known to them from interference by unauthorized third parties as well as to protect their own reputation vis-à-vis other clients.

Consecutive interpreting

The interpreter sits alongside the delegates or at the speaker’s platform. The speaker delivers the speech in chunks of several minutes, pausing after each section for the interpreter to reproduce that section of the speech in the target language. The interpreter does this by listening carefully to the original speech and taking notes using a special technique. This mode of interpreting particularly lends itself to negotiations, formal speeches or interviews. It does not require a soundproof booth and the only equipment needed is a simple sound amplifier if the meeting is being held in a large room or with a big audience.


Consultant interpreter

Consultant interpreters act as consultants for conference organizers. They advise clients on the most appropriate interpreting solutions for their purposes and recruit teams of interpreters depending on the working languages, topic and venue of the meeting concerned.


Should clients wish to record interpretations for webstreaming purposes or re-use at a later date, they must obtain the prior consent of the interpreters. In the private market sector, depending on the purpose of the recording (e.g. commercial or administrative reasons), additional fees may be payable in conformity with international copyright conventions.


For consecutive interpreting the only equipment required by the interpreter is a notepad and pen, although a sound amplifier may be needed if the meeting is being held in a large room or with a big audience. Simultaneous interpreting requires soundproof booths, microphones, transmitters and receivers, headphones and cabling. High-quality equipment and a skilled technician are vital to ensure high-quality interpretation. In particular, interpreters should have a good view of the meeting room and the sound quality should be excellent.


This is the amount an interpreter is paid for providing interpretation at a conference or other event, although it also covers time spent preparing for the conference, including background research and terminology work. The fee is usually a daily rate. In international organizations, this amount is established in the relevant agreement taking into account the working conditions, preparation time, possible tax exemptions, etc. In the private market sector, the fee is negotiated by the interpreter and the client.


Fixed booth

Fixed booths are interpreting booths built permanently into meeting rooms.

Mobile booth

Mobile booths are interpreting booths that can be assembled and disassembled and which are set up in meeting rooms when needed.


Interpreters develop specialized systems of note-taking for consecutive interpreting. While listening to the original speech they note down its logic and structure to enable them to reproduce it afterwards in the target language.

Passive languages

An interpreter’s passive languages are the language or languages out of which s/he translates. The passive languages in a meeting are the languages from which interpretation is provided into active languages. A meeting may not necessarily have the same number of active and passive languages. For example, if interpretation is to be provided into English from French, German and Catalan, English will be the active language and French, German and Catalan will be the passive languages for that meeting.

Per diem

This term refers to the allowances paid to the interpreter per day of absence from his/her professional address. These allowances are intended to cover the expenses incurred by an interpreter and may consist of a flat-rate amount (out of which the interpreter will pay for his/her accommodation and board) or may involve an arrangement whereby the conference organizer pays all or part of the interpreter’s accommodation and board separately.


In relay interpreting, the pivot interpreter is the interpreter working directly from the source language. The other interpreters, who do not understand the source language, listen to the pivot interpreter’s translation and interpret that into other languages.

Recording interpretations

See Copyright



Relay interpreting refers to indirect interpretation, i.e. rather than translate directly from the source language to the target language, an interpreter may work from a colleague’s translation. Relay interpretation is an appropriate solution at conferences using many languages where some interpreters do not understand all of the languages being used or in cases where an exotic or rare language is spoken or required. However, it inevitably causes an additional time lag and increases the risk of inaccuracy and errors.

Simultaneous interpreting

The interpreters work in soundproof booths with a direct view of the meeting room or conference hall. They hear the speaker in their headsets and simultaneously translate into the target language. Listeners hear the translation on a receiver (small headset). Simultaneous interpreting is very demanding and requires high levels of concentration, so there are usually two interpreters per language (and therefore per booth). They work in turns, usually alternating every 30 minutes. Being more time-efficient than consecutive interpreting, this mode of interpreting is particularly useful for meetings and conferences with more than two active languages.


Sound quality is crucial for good simultaneous interpretation. Interpreters need a level of volume higher than ordinary listeners, since they are speaking at the same time as they are listening. The sound they receive through their receivers must be clear, without interference and within a range of 125 to 12,500 Hz (for comparison: an ordinary telephone line has a range of 0 to 3,400 Hz, which means that ISDN transmissions are not suitable for interpretation). An important factor in ensuring adequate sound quality is that only one microphone, the microphone being used by the speaker, is switched on at any one time.

Subsistence allowance

See Per diem


The concept of a team is very important in conference interpreting. Most conferences use simultaneous interpretation, which means that interpreters never work alone; they always work with one or more colleagues. It is important to ensure the proper team strength for the language requirements of the meeting so that interpreters can work together effectively and thus contribute actively and positively to the smooth running of the meeting.

Team leader

In a team, the team leader, often referred to by the French term chef d’équipe, is responsible for ensuring that interpreters work well together and for liaising with the conference organizer, obtaining documents, solving problems and obtaining information from speakers. The team leader acts as a single point of contact for both interpreters and participants, thus avoiding any disruption of the proceedings due to individual interpreters’ requests.

Travel allowance

Traditionally, the French term frais d’approche is used to refer to a travel allowance paid to interpreters as compensation for travelling time from the professional address to the conference venue. The French term frais de déproche refers to the travel allowance paid for the return trip to the professional address.


The term video-conference refers to any conference whose participants are in more than one location and who communicate using interactive telecommunication technologies. AIIC has developed precise specifications (in particular for video monitors and sound quality) so that, despite the technical constraints, conditions are adequate to allow the interpreters to maintain a high standard of work. AIIC publishes the Code for Use of New Technologies for Conference Interpretation.


Whispering is simultaneous interpreting without the booths. The interpreter sits next to or behind one or two meeting participants and whispers the interpretation of the speech to them. It is not recommended when there are more than two listeners or when several interpreters need to work at the same time in the same room. Interpreters work in teams of two.


Ana Hernanz